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The state Senate approved a bill Monday that would prevent a gas pipeline from being built along a route that mostly bypasses Alaska.
Senators voted 18-0 for Senate Bill 164, which would prohibit leases for the pipeline on state-owned submerged lands in the Beaufort Sea.
That would effectively block construction of a natural gas line along the so-called "over-the-top" route from Prudhoe Bay to the Canadian Arctic. Senators, instead, support a proposed southern route that would follow the existing trans-Alaska pipeline, then the Alaska Highway to Canada.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. John Torgerson, a Kasilof Republican, said the southern route would provide far greater benefit to the state, including more jobs and greater access to natural gas for Alaska consumers and industries.
"Clearly, the over-the-top route is not in the best interests of the state," Torgerson said.
It's not certain that a gas pipeline will be built. BP, Phillips Petroleum and Exxon have formed the North American Natural Gas Pipeline Group to study whether it's feasible to build a gas line from the North Slope to Lower 48 markets. The group is considering both the northern route and the southern route.
The group's spokesman, Curtis Thayer, said the producers aren't happy with the Senate's action. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires the producers to study alternatives, and the northern route, which is about 300 miles shorter, is one of those, he said.
"For the Legislature to take options away from us this early is disappointing," Thayer said. "On the one hand the federal government is saying, 'You have to study the options,' and the state is precluding us from studying the options."
Thayer said the companies could come up with an alternative such as a northern pipeline and a spur to Fairbanks to meet in-state needs rather than running the main pipeline down the southern route.
The group is just now awarding contracts for the study and may go ahead and evaluate the northern route, despite the Senate's action, Thayer said. The pipeline group hopes to know by the end of the year which, if either, route is feasible, he said.
Torgerson said if the producers determined the northern route was the only feasible one, his mind wouldn't change on the bill.
"It makes no difference," Torgerson said. "We're not interested."
The bill next goes to the House.